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Franklin's First Law of Communication

I'm sure most of the folks on my flist are probably at least passingly familiar with Godwin's Law, which states "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

It's been my observation over the past few years, and particularly over the past few months, that a similar law applies to any conversation about radical honesty within a relationship. I've participated in quite a few entirely separate conversations on the subject of communication on entirely different forums with entirely different people, and in nearly every case, someone somewhere has argued against the notion that a person ought to be able to share anything at all with a romantic partner in the same way.

So I'd like to propose a new law, which states: As an online discussion about communication or radical honesty grows longer, the probability that someone will say "Well, you don't tell your partner every time you take a shit, do you?" approaches 1.

I'd further like to propose a corollary which says that the person making the comment about excretory functions, by making that statement, has demonstrated conclusively that he or she does not understand the value of open communication. Namely, that it's not about telling your partner every minute detail of your life, it's about being ABLE to talk to your partner about any subject whatsoever, without the feeling that there are certain topics that you Dare Not Broach for fear of Bad And Dramatic Things.

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( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
gushi
Jun. 10th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC)
Hear Hear
As I've done this experiment, I can tell you quite honestly that yes, I did say whatever leapt into my mind, and got to the point where the filter dissolved.

I've decided I don't have someone I can be that honest with. Which saddens me terribly.
xaotica
Jun. 12th, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Hear Hear

i've had very few people where i could be that honest with them... but it's not a coincidence that they are the people where the relationship ended and we remain close friends to this day. i'd rather have a lifelong friend who i can be completely honest with than a lover who i can't anyway.

xaotica
Jun. 12th, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Hear Hear

or, to be more accurate, where they would react well to me being that honest. i'm very blunt by default, it just often doesn't go over that well ;)
bugfish
Jun. 10th, 2010 11:44 pm (UTC)
I think I do tell every time, actually.
freefall127
Jun. 10th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
hear hear!

seconded
awfulhorrid
Jun. 11th, 2010 02:06 am (UTC)
No, I don't tell my partners every time I take a dump, but since we rarely close the door on the bathroom around there (it upsets the cats) I'm reasonably sure they know when I do. Anyway, the point is that I very well could do so and more importantly I'm free to share actual important information without fear. It's quite nice, really.
trinker
Jun. 11th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC)
Hmm...

I had a relationship where excretory functions and other "crude" issues were totally considered okay, but discussion of other things was verboten. My metrics for honest, intimate communication are skewed as a result.
xaotica
Jun. 12th, 2010 11:50 pm (UTC)

could you just use "taking a shit" as a euphemism for sex? ha.
trinker
Jun. 13th, 2010 12:01 am (UTC)
*blink*

Perhaps I should clarify - I had a partner with whom discussing the quality of one's excretion would have been normal, but saying, "I find that joke not very funny" would have resulted in drama.

Over now, not gonna do that one again.
(Deleted comment)
tacit
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:34 am (UTC)
I tend to think of myself as more a pragmatist than an idealist. I've built several relationships in which there is no such thing as a conversation topic that's off the table, but it's probably because that's one of my most important partner selection criteria.
quaryn_dk
Jun. 11th, 2010 08:56 am (UTC)
Have to chime in with Franklin on this one.
joreth
Jun. 12th, 2010 05:34 am (UTC)
Ditto - every time I've found myself in a relationship with someone who doesn't espouse this philosophy, things have ended BADLY.

The ones who do, well, I'm still with them, and happy with them.
thenanerbananer
Jun. 11th, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
"the value of open communication. Namely, that it's not about telling your partner every minute detail of your life, it's about being ABLE to talk to your partner about any subject whatsoever, without the feeling that there are certain topics that you Dare Not Broach for fear of Bad And Dramatic Things."

Marvelous!
red_girl_42
Jun. 12th, 2010 03:53 am (UTC)
I definitely believe that in a relationship, there should never be any *subject* that is not up for discussion. I'm lucky that in my two romantic relationships (and most of my close friendships, as well) there isn't any topic I feel I can't discuss.

However, most of the people I've seen talking about "radical honesty" are really using it as code for, "I can say hurtful things to you in the name of 'honesty' and you don't get to hold me accountable."

I think everyone occasionally thinks things that would hurt their partners if they said those things out loud. Usually they are fleeting thoughts or fantasies that we don't really mean or want. They just happen. And it would be cruel and hurtful to share them.

I don't tell my partner every time I take a shit, but I could do it without damaging the relationship. But I don't tell my partner when I think things like, "Jesus Christ, could you possibly BE any clingier today?" And if I did, it would damage the relationship. And since it's a fleeting thought probably brought on by my own stressful day, and not a serious relationship problem, I don't share it.

I'm sure my partners have thoughts like that about me, sometimes, too, and I don't want them sharing them. If they did, I would find it unnecessarily cruel.
joreth
Jun. 12th, 2010 05:44 am (UTC)
I've learned that a key red flag for discovering if they are the "I can say hurtful things to you in the name of honesty" type, is if they regularly think people should develop "thicker skin" because they "can't handle the truth", or things along those lines. People who say things like "I will not sugar coat it for you" are of this type. People who are completely and totally unwilling to even consider different word usage to better express their *intent* because they don't recognize that their partners might hear something different than their intended message for whatever reason.

It would be damaging for me to say "Jesus Christ, could you possibly BE any clinger today?" to at least one of my partners, who is very sensitive about the possibility that he might be smothering someone. But my partners would respect my wishes if I said "I'm feeling very introverted today and I need some Me Time. Do you mind not speaking to me or touching me for a while so I can decompress?" That's still speaking the truth, still bringing up a subject that, if said inconsiderately, might damage the relationship, but done so in a compassionate manner that would probably, ultimately, help the relationship far more than not saying anything would have.

Not saying anything at all could cause resentment, especially if it happens several times. Saying so gives my partner a chance to contribute to my happiness & the health of the relationship, thereby furthering a sense of contentment, a sense that my partner cares for me, and that I can be myself with my partner - who all then appreciate that I can give instructions on how to deal with me so they don't inadvertently step in any landmines and, since they care about me, who care about my happiness and wish to contribute.

(of course, this all works going the other direction as well)
red_girl_42
Jun. 13th, 2010 06:26 am (UTC)
I've learned that a key red flag for discovering if they are the "I can say hurtful things to you in the name of honesty" type, is if they regularly think people should develop "thicker skin" because they "can't handle the truth", or things along those lines. People who say things like "I will not sugar coat it for you" are of this type.

I think you've nailed it here.

And you're right, it is definitely possible to speak truths in ways that aren't as hurtful as those first fleeting thoughts that pass through your head.
freyaw
Jun. 27th, 2010 12:46 pm (UTC)
I've learned that a key red flag for discovering if they are the "I can say hurtful things to you in the name of honesty" type, is if they regularly think people should develop "thicker skin" because they "can't handle the truth", or things along those lines.

This.

Anyone who wants everyone else to change in order to accommodate them, and never change their approach one iota themselves is a red flag for me - not going to say that change is always good, but when I'm trying as hard as I can to work with them, I'd like them to be trying too.
joreth
Jun. 27th, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC)
Yep. There are certainly times when you've done everything you can possibly think of and the person you're talking to just insists on taking offense or being "hurt" by everything you've said, or interpreting everything in the worst possible interpretation of the words in direct contrast to your own protests that you didn't mean it like that. Sometimes the other person really *does* need to "develop thicker skin" or the "truth hurts".

IMO, the side with the "hurtful truth" should be attempting to come up with ways that will A) convey the message accurately and B) do so in a manner that won't completely alienate the recipient by being deliberately hurtful, and the recipient should be attempting to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt that deliberate offense was not intended.

In other words, back to tacit's Game Theory analogy:

Start out by cooperating. Then do what the other person does. If the other person "defects" (does something uncooperative), respond in kind the next round, but if he goes back to being cooperative, forgive and forget and go back to cooperating too.

You can't be so cooperative that you're walked all over by a regular defector, but you can't be so unforgiving that a genuine mistake is punished indefinitely.
tacit
Jun. 12th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
I will grant that the phrase "radical honesty" often gets a bad rap, though the same is true of "polyamory"--there certainly are enough high-profile folks willing to use it as a defense of cheating.

That said, I think that if a person wants to be a dick, he'll be a dick, and trying to correct his communication style isn't likely to change that. The folks who deliberately set out to be hurtful or malicious--well, the best thing you can do with them is not get involved with them, or when their proclivity for malice becomes apparent, dump 'em. That's not a communication issue per se, I don't think.
xaotica
Jun. 12th, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC)

i actually sincerely want people to tell me those hurtful things, and i want to say them too. i feel like the less they censor their thoughts around me, the more i understand them... and the better i understand them, the easier it is for me to avoid saying/doing things that will hurt them more in the long run. but i freely admit that i'm not as sensitive as most people, so i take offhand comments more easily than others sometimes.

also, sometimes things like that are based on misunderstandings. for example "could you possibly BE any clingier today?" "oh, i was actually pressuring you about what you were doing tomorrow night because this band that you love is playing and i was thinking about surprising you with a ticket" or other unexpected responses
joreth
Jun. 12th, 2010 05:46 am (UTC)
it's not about telling your partner every minute detail of your life, it's about being ABLE to talk to your partner about any subject whatsoever, without the feeling that there are certain topics that you Dare Not Broach for fear of Bad And Dramatic Things.

YES!!!! THAT!!!

There's a reason I'm still interested in dating you :-* OK, there are several - this is one.
roguebaby
Jun. 13th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
I though I had that with someone, but turns out he is a compulsive liar... like...clinically. We are still friends, but only in a very superficial manner.
So now I am gunshy.

Funnily, my current boyfriend DOES tell me when he's heading to the can, generally so I can run use the bathroom before him as he likes to linger.
freyaw
Jun. 27th, 2010 12:47 pm (UTC)
:D Or, in my household's case, so that the person who just has to pee doesn't have to do so in the lingering STENCH :P
(Anonymous)
Jun. 15th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
Franklin's law
Useful! Noted! :)

You write a lot of good stuff I'm glad I've read.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )